Sister Rea McDonnell, SSND, offers daily reflections on the Liturgical Readings for each day. If you wish to share your own reflections or have comments or questions, please feel free to email Sister Rea. For information about Sister Rea's publications, visit our online gift shop.
Have you ever been so caught up in something or someone that, even for a moment, you were transformed; you seemed to be as it were, in a world deeper, more intense than your ordinary way of experiencing? If you have, you may be able to grasp a bit of the disciples' experience of Jesus transfigured. Today's Gospel holds out a promise. We have entered into the sometimes dark challenge of a deeper Baptismal commitment this Lent. We can trust in faith, as Abraham and Sara did, that God's Reign will come, God's will be done; our lives, our communities and God's creation will be transformed as Jesus was.
What is the challenge to which the God of Jesus Christ calls you this Lent? Will today's readings encourage you to be faithful to it? What have been your experiences in times when God's actions, or what you perceived as God's actions left you in the darkness of confusion, discouragement, questioning, struggling with faith? Have you been able to sense, if not see or say, God's presence with you in the midst of them?
How do you imagine yourself when you attend Eucharist? As an individual joining a group? A member of the family, community members or friends you came with? As a Eucharistic or music minister? Today's readings invite us to consider ourselves with a wider horizon: a larger community of faith: the parish or diocesan church; the SSND Atlantic Midwest Province; the United States church; the worldwide Church. When we've adjusted our "wider community lens," the readings invite us to focus on the most important reality of the Paschal season of which Lent is a part: the vast love and mercy of a forgiving compassionate God. This love allows a community to acknowledge where it has missed the mark through unfaithfulness; Jesus challenges the community to contemplate this God, to assess our critical judgmental attitudes and to trust in God's immeasurable mercy to forgive and renew its spirit.
Imagine God's compassionate love embracing humankind and all creation. As you gaze, notice the traits you recognize in the larger faith communities of which you are a part. Which of them miss the mark in the light of God's compassionate love? Do you experience them in yourself as well? Can you look at our merciful God, acknowledge them and trust in God's forgiveness?
Time and again we are confronted with stories of political and religious corruption: leaders who may have started out with high ideals are enticed by the trappings of their power. Their moral lens becomes clouded so that greed, bribery and self-promotion become the norm and the justice which leadership owes to the poor and the stranger clouds over until it virtually disappears. Worship becomes empty ritual; its powerful words of covenant become mouthed platitudes. Today's readings face these realities starkly and illumine a just and compassionate God's outlook on them.
What is the most recent account you have heard about the corruption which poisons many civil and religious leaders? Yesterday's Gospel teaches a non-judgmental attitude, based on the God of mercy. Does this teaching apply here? What is the moral role of citizens or church members when they discover evidences that their leaders are "missing the mark" and justice is not being served? What about the smaller but real possession of power by all of us, elected leaders or not?
The temptations of power for "ordinary" people surface again in today's Gospel. A mother thinks she is doing the best for her children by pleading for the best seats for them: just what the Pharisees coveted in yesterday's Gospel! Jesus often turned the meaning of traditional words upside down: think of the words Reign ... King... power and authority. For him power and authority are contained in the kind of leadership described in the Servant Songs of Isaiah: loving service without "lording it" over others; service willing to be poured out even in death for those who are served. (The word used here is also the same word used by Mary when she says: "Behold the servant of the Lord: be it done to me according to your word." ) The power and authority of leadership aren't seen in the abstract, but again, in the wider picture of the one who makes her or his own God's active compassionate love. Then the power of leadership is put at the service of helping God's reign come about; by making the desires of God's heart one's own. The first reading and the Psalm remind us of the costs of that kind of leadership.
Some readings this week highlight the misuse of power. Yet power is a gift given by God to every human person. When was the last time you took a good look at your power? Are you inclined to think of it as a good gift? Do you reflect on the power which is yours in the relationships and responsibilities which make up your life? What about the power you share with others as a member of a wider political, social or religious community? Do you recognize it? Do you use it? Do you ignore it? What do today's readings call you to?
"We are committed to making real the basic principles that are at the heart of Catholic social teaching: helping the poor and disadvantaged, protecting the most vulnerable among us, and ensuring that all Americans of every faith are given meaningful opportunities to share in the blessings of this great country. That commitment is fulfilled in different ways by legislators but includes: reducing the rising rates of poverty; increasing access to education for all; pressing for increased access to health care, and taking seriously the decision to go to war. Each of these issues challenges our obligations as Catholics to community and helping those in need."
The poor Lazarus and the wealthy Dives can embody the individuals whose lives barely cross each other in a world which often separates them from each other. Even if they do meet physically, the women and men who are today's Lazarus and Dives are most frequently as invisible to others as if they were not passing each other on the street.
Lazarus and Dives can also symbolize the economic and social systems which divide countless human beings from each other. In these systems, worldwide statistics make it clear that one of the results of globalization is that the divide is growing, not narrowing. The statement above recognizes that the tradition of Catholic social teaching which has developed out of Gospel parables and teachings like this one, offers ways for legislators to be faithful at a systemic level to the unjust systems present today in society.
How frequent is your contact with the materially poor? Do you "see" the woman with the grocery bags in a shopping cart or the man with a cardboard sign saying "Homeless: will work for food?" When you pass them, do you look them in the eye and recognize them as people? Do you reflect on them as individuals who may be assisted by direct service? Do you consider the legislation pending locally or nationally which may address the sinful economic roots which underlie their poverty? What would the Jesus who told the parable of Lazarus and Dives do in today's situation of local, national and global poverty?
Today's readings might remind us of the variety of crimes we see if we watch any of the abundance of crime dramas on television: the multiple CSI shows, Law and Order and on and on. Abduction, trafficking in drugs or human beings and murder are common fare night after night. Today we find them in the first reading and the Gospel.
Good Friday is just about a month away and these readings have a different purpose from the crime shows: they invite us to recognize some hints of the saving story we will remember on the second day of the Triduum. Joseph's story allows us to see jealousy and the violence which can arise from it. Joseph was a dreamer; the favored son of Israel (Jacob). The intended crime of murder doesn't happen here, although crimes of abandonment and selling him into slavery conclude the story. The greed of the tenants in Jesus' parable leads to similar thoughts of violence. Here the murder does happen and Jesus takes the opportunity to point to its consequences for the murderers.
Jesus' execution did not take place in a vacuum: this week's readings have shown us his life, his example and his teachings on service, leadership, corruption and injustice against the poor. His faithfulness to these values of the Reign of God put him on a collision course with the fear and jealousy of those he threatened.
Our Baptism commits us to live and act in the faith that a compassionate transforming and just God is at its center as it was for Jesus.. This Lenten season invites us today to look at the consequences which such living and acting can have. Have we experienced opposition, jealousy, or fear because of the way we live? Have we known others who have?
Saint Patrick, whose feast is remembered today was a close contemporary of
Saint Augustine. Toward the end of his life, he composed, as Augustine did,
a "Confession" that is a summary of his life in faith. Here is a brief excerpt:
"And if at any time I managed anything of good for the sake of my God
whom I love, I beg of him that he grant it to me to shed my blood for
his name with proselytes and captives, even should I be left unburied,
or even were my wretched body to be torn limb from limb by dogs or
savage beasts, or were it to be devoured by the birds of the air, I
think, most surely, were this to have happened to me, I had saved both
my soul and my body. For beyond any doubt on that day we shall rise
again in the brightness of the sun, that is, in the glory of Christ
Jesus our Redeemer, as children of the living God and co-heirs of
Christ, made in his image; for we shall reign through him and for
him and in him."
Forgiveness and its lack are often discussed in the context of the death penalty today. Statistics, victims' stories, family's stories, criminals' stories are discussed; even an opera Dead Men Walking, developed from Sister Helen Prejean's book of the same name includes all of these stories in its arias and choruses. Today's liturgy has the same focus.
The central theme of this season, God's unfailing mercy and compassion in the face of great sin, breathes through every reading in today's Eucharist. The parable of the Prodigal Son is the epitome of this mercy, so much so that some have said that it should be titled "The parable of the Compassionate Father." A way to to focus on God's mercy in the story could be to make the Father the central figure. Read the entire passage in this way, even imagining the Father looking from a distance as the story graphically describes the son's sinfulness and repentance. Once more, we are reminded that this God is where all our life during this season should focus as we pray, fast, give alms and recognize the sinfulness which this year obscured and weakens our Baptismal commitment.
Pray this excerpt from the Psalm for today, Psalm 103. Keep your
contemplative gaze on the God it pictures:
You pardon all our iniquities and heal all our ills;
You redeem our lives from destruction and crown us with kindness and compassion;
For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is your kindness toward those who reverence You.
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